JERUSALEM — Seeking to show that memories can fail after 40 years, a defense attorney grilled a witness today for details of the Nazi death camp where retired U.S. auto worker John Demjanjuk is accused of torturing prisoners.
"I am trying to show, Dr. Arad, that if you, one of the greatest historians of the Holocaust, cannot decide on some critical elements in this case, how can the witnesses?" American attorney Mark O'Connor said while questioning historian Yitzhak Arad.
Demjanjuk, 66, is accused of being the sadistic guard "Ivan the Terrible" who ran the Treblinka death camp's gas chambers. He was extradited here one year ago from Cleveland.
O'Connor contends that the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk is a victim of mistaken identity and that the Nazi guard Ivan was killed in a 1943 prisoner uprising at Treblinka.
First Trial Since Eichmann
Demjanjuk, who could face the death penalty if convicted, is the second person to stand trial in Israel on charges of Nazi war crimes. Adolf Eichmann was hanged here in 1962.
O'Connor spent much of the day in front of a diagram of the Treblinka camp.
He asked Arad about discrepancies between the layout of the camp as shown in a book he wrote about Treblinka based on survivors' testimony and a 1943 drawing by former camp inmate Yaakov Wernick.
O'Connor noted that the two sketches showed different locations of a tree where some Jewish victims were hanged, a building where women removed their clothes before being led to their deaths and a barbed-wire fence.
Arad, whose family was killed in the Holocaust, readily admitted there were some discrepancies between the drawings.
"My diagram is an overall impression of what the camp looked like without going into inches and yards," he said.
O'Connor also said while questioning Arad that the Jewish survivors who worked at the camp were separated from the gas chambers by a barbed-wired fence camouflaged with tree branches.
He said the inmates could not see what happened there and only heard rumors about the atrocities commited by "Ivan the Terrible."